Supporters Of Marijuana Industry: UNR Pot Summit Is Out Of Line

By Chris Kudialis | The Las Vegas Sun

What’s billed as a marijuana education conference next week by UNR is more like a state-sponsored, government-funded propaganda rally against legalization of the drug, say supporters of the state’s marijuana industry.

And they think that if UNR is allowed to put on the event, they deserve equal time.

The conference, titled “Marijuana Summit: What Health Care Professionals, Law Enforcement Officers, Employers and Members of the Court Need to Know,” features presenters such as Nevada Assemblyman Pat Hickey, an opponent of legalization efforts; Mel Pohl, medical director of the Las Vegas Recovery Center; and Jim Gerhardt, a Thornton, Colo., police sergeant who has traveled across the country over the past year cautioning legislators of the dangers of marijuana.

“If you legalize it, then you’re done,” Gerhardt told an audience in Iowa last year. “There is going to be no way to contain it.”

Join Together Northern Nevada, a non-profit substance abuse coalition that is hosting the conference, acknowledges that the purpose of the event is to discourage use of the drug. The summit, funded through federal grants from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, is being held in two sessions — Wednesday in Reno and Thursday at the Renaissance Hotel in Las Vegas. About 200 participants, primarily physicians, are expected to attend each session.

Critics say the summit, which focuses solely on the potential dangers of the drug and comes seven months before Nevada voters will decide a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana, is an inappropriate use of federal funding. They question why the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, an arm of the state Department of Health and Human Services, would be involved, given that the division’s mission is to carry out public policy and not to sway public opinion on it. They also contend that UNR, which is sponsoring the event through its Continuing Medical Education department, is acting inappropriately by not presenting a rounded view of the subject.

“Nowhere in the lineup is there any mention of how marijuana can benefit veterans with PTSD,” said Nevada State Sen. Patricia Farley, who has advocated in favor of medical marijuana since taking office in 2014. “I’d just like to see something a little more fair and balanced.”

Phillip Peckman, president of the Nevada Cannabis Coalition and an investor in Las Vegas’ Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, said while Department of Health and Human Services director Richard Whitley has been “great” in working with medical marijuana businesses in Nevada, the department shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to fund a one-sided event.

“I’m all for education, but the question comes down to, ‘Should the division be funding this?’” Peckman said, “If that’s the case, we’d want them to sponsor a pro-marijuana panel, too.”

Whitley did not respond to multiple email and phone requests for comment. A spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment.

Las Vegas attorney Amanda Connor has long supported the medical marijuana cause in court. Although she wouldn’t comment specifically on next week’s summit, Connor said accuracy and fairness was “key” to holding a successful symposium.

“Knowledge is power, and it’s important to get information out to the public,” Connor said. “My only concern would be if that the information is accurate, and that’s why many people in the industry are concerned about this.”

Jennifer Snyder, executive director of Join Together Northern Nevada, said the event wouldn’t include any proponents of marijuana, because while medical marijuana is legal state-wide, the drug still is banned on a federal level.

Snyder said the coalition’s event did “not at all” involve the upcoming ballot measure. The coalition also hosts separate events discouraging the use of heroin and opioids, among other drugs, throughout the year, Snyder said.

Melissa Piasecki, executive associate dean of the medical school, said she had heard concerns about this week’s summit. But she said she was confident it deserved to be part of the school’s continuing education program.

Before receiving funding, such programs, proposed by community organizations like JTNN, are reviewed by the School of Medicine’s Continuing Education Review Board.

If the proposed programs fall under “Clinical diagnosis and management of disease and disorders,” “updates on the latest research and techniques,” “topics affecting the practice of medicine and health care delivery systems,” or “current issues affecting the practice of medicine in Nevada,” they’ll be approved for “continuing education credits,” Piasecki said.

Next week’s summit offers five hours of credits for drug and alcohol counselors, five hours for nurses and two credits for physicians in ethics, pain management and addiction care.

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Richard Lowe

Richard Lowe is a 14-year veteran of the financial sector with licenses as a commodity broker (Series 3) and investment advisor representative (IAR Series 65). Along with a focus on raising capital for the firms he was employed with, he also wrote and edited much of the content published by them. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts. He has been a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization due to the social injustices associated with marijuana prohibition and the strong potential for the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

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One Comment

  1. Meanwhile in Kentucky–
    An Informational Town Hall meeting on Medical Cannabis was held on November 8. 2015 in Alexandria, Ky sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Campbell County Post 3205 Auxiliary and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Having given the keynote speech at that event I was surprised and somewhat curious when immediately afterward the opponents of marijuana legalization organized and held one on December 1, 2015. The ‘Marijuana Summit’ was published as giving both sides of the issue.
    I attended the event. They offered a ‘Legislative Breakfast’ and all our local legislators were there. They seemed to be very close with the organizers of the event. During breakfast Mr. Tony Coder, the Assistant Director of Drug Free Action Alliance, presided over a lively discussion of the issues. Senator Perry Clark, who attended, responded to the notion that since we already have a heroin problem we don’t need to legalize another drug. Ignoring the obvious attempt to link heroin with marijuana Senator Clark pointed out the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of a 25{b9c41f62a37c687b31b667cf69204c41d59060d4b370c48d31ec094649de4955} drop in opioid drug overdose deaths in states that have medical cannabis programs and that that percentage is increasing.
    The response was a change of subject.
    I was struck by the snarky way Mr. Coder regaled us with the story of him breaking California law and lying to obtain a medical marijuana card to prove how easy it was to get one. At this point I was able to get a word in and posed him this query.
    California has had medical marijuana since 1996. You say that’s a scam and Californians can access marijuana any time they want. Ok, I’ll give you that, (when I said that he looked surprised, then I continued), however that means the citizens of California have had easy access to marijuana for 20 years. You have to answer this. Where are the bodies? Where are all the bad things you all say will happen if marijuana is legalized?
    Another change of subject.
    Mr. Coder repeated his easy access claim during the next session on marijuana prohibition history. I quickly pointed out that he proves my point.
    Change of subject.
    The 3rd session was a speech by Mr. Ed Shemelya, the National Coordinator for the National Marijuana Initiative, a retired police officer who worked extensively with the High Intensity Drug Task Force and gives speeches for a living. He did point out, among a load of numbers that if 2 of the 6 states that will have legalization on the ballot pass it in 2016 it is, as he put it, “all over folks!”
    Oh I wish it were true!
    I had to leave at the halfway point. The first session after lunch was about hemp which is legal and really only a problem for the helicopter eradication program. The last was about the last 2 Monitoring the Future surveys concerning teen access and use which has not changed significantly with legalization. The interesting thing here is that with the exception of medical need supervised by a Doctor, no State has or will legalize marijuana for anyone under 21, so it’s really a moot point.
    They always come back to protecting the children. I wonder? Marijuana has been used by women for menstrual cramps and morning sickness for 4000 years. In all that time there is no anecdotal evidence of birth defects or problems in birth resulting from marijuana use during pregnancy. Given the role we now know the cannabinoid system plays in maintaining good health and the fact of marijuana’s zero toxicity, one can envision a future in which ones Cheerios come, “fortified with THC for your protection”.
    The ‘Marijuana Summit’, although misguided was certainly sincere, however we would be better served by them joining in as legalization comes and helping to craft effective policy rather than opposing it completely and having no say in the policy eventually enacted.

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